IFA Farm Forestry Chairman, Michael Fleming has voiced concern about the falling afforestation figures, following the publication of latest Forest Service report that shows area established down 30% on this time last year. He said this is worrying given the importance of forests and afforestation in our national climate change strategy.
“The Forestry Programme 2014 – 2020 has an afforestation and woodland creation objective to establish 6,600 hectares in 2016. Based on the figures produced by the Forest Service for February, the planting programme could be less than 4,500 hectares this year if the trend continues”, said Mr. Fleming. “The continuing decline in the afforestation programme is a worrying development especially considering the strong recognition in the Paris Agreement of the role of forests as sinks in mitigating climate change”.
Afforestation is accepted as the most significant mitigation option against climate change that is available to Ireland’s land-use sector. Ireland’s forest policy is to plant approximate 10,000 hectares of new forests each year over the programme period 2015 to 2020. The climate change mitigation capacity of the forest sector is strongly dependent on having young forests to balance out harvest and other decreases in carbon stock.
“The barriers to a farmer planting are well documented”, said Mr. Fleming. “A lot of consideration goes into the decision to plant, as once the land is planted it must remain in forestry in perpetuity due to the replanting obligation. He stated that “a number of issues have undermined farmer confidence in recent years; the 8% cut to forest premium and the ongoing mapping issues that are reducing payable area have led to insecurity about forest premiums”.
He said that other key issues included the reduction in productive forest area due to environmental requirements under the afforestation scheme, as well as restrictions on the land type eligible under the afforestation programme. He continued that the IFA has campaigned for the last few years that land, which has the productivity capacity and is not environmentally sensitive should be eligible under the afforestation scheme. This land should also receive a grant and premium rate that compensates the farmer for income foregone.
He said that these issues must be addressed if the downward afforestation trend is to be reversed and afforestation targets achieved. Forestry is a good option for many farmers, and can provide an alternative income stream for the farm business but farmers need to have confidence that the contract will be honoured and that they can produce an economic crop.